God’s heart for the lost and lonely:
Throughout all of scripture, God has shown a peculiar interest in caring for those who find themselves stranded, alone, and destitute. We see it in the miraculous conception of Isaac, in the redemption of Ruth, and in the parable of the prodigal son. We see it in the law that makes special provision for widows, orphans, aliens and slaves. I especially love the stories of God blessing infertile women with children. Each time I read of his kindness in granting the unexpected joys of motherhood to Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, I am moved. I read Hannah’s song and can hear a wonderful echo of the Magnificat – God has lifted up the humble, the hungry, and the barren. God is fundamentally concerned about finding and rescuing the lost and the lonely.
The psalmist writes, “God sets the lonely in families,” and this has also been my experience. I’m not suggesting that every yearning bachelor is blessed with a bride or that every woman who prays for a child conceives. We know that this is not so. The heartbreaks that we bear do not magically evaporate, but the church is referred to as the family of God for a reason.
Loneliness and the modern church
As is common in urban areas, there are a lot of singles of every generation in my church. Most of them are not actively looking for a romantic relationship, but are actively involved in serving the church community. And inevitably the efforts and energies that they are able to pour into the life of the church would be less if their personal demands were greater. St. Paul was clear about how valuable singles are in the church, saying, “One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord… I say this for your own benefit… to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” There is a place – a deeply valued place – in the church for those who are alone in this particular way.
The New Testament exhorts believers to form cross-generational relationships. St. Paul, in his epistle to Titus, writes that older women’s behaviour and speech is to be an encouragement and example to the younger women. Timothy is told to appeal to the older men and women as fathers and mothers and to the younger ones as siblings. Out of sync with this teaching is a tendency in churches to separate people into like groups – seniors, couples, and so forth. While there is a place for such programming, I find the trend worrying, because it creates an experience of church that is more reminiscent of a social club than a family gathering.
A new kind of family
Jesus redefined the familial relationships around him when he pointed to his followers and said, “Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” The followers of Christ form a family – his family. Though my own family members live in other cities, I am surrounded in my church by believers from every generation who are for me and to me, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters. And so it occurs to me that much of scripture is really all about adoption: God’s of us and ours of each other – evidence upon evidence of God’s mercy and love.
“In love God predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ…”
– Ephesians 1:5